Levenger has always been about helping our customers read, write and work with ideas. When we were deciding on our tagline, “Intellectual Craftsmanship” sounded too snooty, so instead we adopted “Tools for Serious Readers,” which has served us well for nearly 30 years.
When I stepped down as CEO a couple of years ago, I turned to reading, writing and working with ideas in the unlikely field of bilingualism. At least it seemed unlikely to me.
While I had earned a Ph.D. in sociology back in my 20s, I never had the slightest interest in the subject of languages. Back then, I was interested in the social impact of technology, and I worked as a science writer for McGraw-Hill and a few other companies. (This was all before Lori and I decided to take the plunge into business, with a catalog idea whose name was a mashup of our last names of Leveen and Granger: Levenger.)
I became interested in bilingualism only when I began my own journey to learn Spanish—something I’ve been pursuing now, with uneven success, for almost 10 years. When friends and neighbors found out I was studying Spanish, they would say the oddest things. Or at least, I thought they were odd. Like, “Why bother? The whole world speaks English.” Or, “Why bother? Technology will soon make language learning obsolete.”
Neither assertion rang true to me. I wanted to argue, but I didn’t know the facts myself. So I began to read books on bilingualism, and that’s when I got hooked. A slew of unanswered questions emerged: How did a nation of immigrants become so strongly monolingual? How is it that most of the people on our planet are already bilingual, while for the most part, Americans are not? Is being bilingual good for your mental health? Are we doomed to remain the majority monolingual nation we are today?
To dig into these questions, I took two fellowship years—the first at Harvard and the second at Stanford. I met and interviewed scholars, linguists, language teachers and hundreds of bilinguals, including nearly all of my taxi and Uber drivers.
The more I learned, the more fascinated I became. All over the world, more people are becoming more bilingual as they move to urban areas and learn more widely spoken languages, including, most of all, English.
Yet I didn’t find the book I most wanted to read—a book that would explain how America got to where we are today, how we compare with the rest of the world, what’s going right in terms of language learning here (there is plenty, but it’s small), and finally, whether we had the ability as individuals and an appetite as a nation to escape our seeming fate of English monolingualism.
Is there a connection between what Levenger does and what I’m doing now? I didn’t think so at first. But over the past two years, some friends, including my editor, Mim Harrison, have helped me see it. The connection is literacy.
At Levenger we celebrate literacy. Beyond the Levenger company is the Levenger Foundation, which for 20 years has supported, in a modest way, libraries and literacy efforts of all kinds. Bilingualism is the natural next step in literacy, for after there is literacy there is biliteracy.
And now to the podcast
While I’ve been researching and writing my book on this subject, a group I respect greatly reached out to me and asked that I start a podcast on what I’ve been learning about bilingualism. The group is our national association of language teachers called the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (they pronounce their acronym, ACTFL, “act-full.”). They wanted my podcast to be part of a national campaign they are launching called “Lead with Languages.” I’ve agreed to do it.
With the deadline looming for my first three episodes, I’ve been climbing up the learning curve on podcasting. I’ve hired my producer, Fernando Hernandez, and am now trying to name the thing. Below is a description of the podcast and a few possible names. Can you tell me which name you like? (Or suggest another?)
A New Podcast for Those Thirsty to Learn Their Next Language
Have you always wanted to learn another language? Are you wanting to raise bilingual children? Are you thirsty to live the larger life that another language can bring?
In __________*_________ you’ll hear host Steve Leveen interview people who have become bilingual, especially native-English speakers who learned another language as adults (that is, the hard way). How did they do it? Why did they do it? How do they lead their bilingual lives? You’ll hear inspiring, useful stories from people who have seized their larger lives.
You’ll also hear from leading linguists, heads of language learning companies, celebrated language teachers and others who can help you on your journey to becoming bilingual.
_________*_____________ will launch in March 2017. It will support a national campaign that the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the professional association representing more than 12,500 American language teachers, is directing.
About the host: Steve has been studying Spanish since 2007 and says he is now “sort of conversational.” After retiring as CEO of Levenger, Steve spent fellowship years at Harvard and Stanford researching how people acquire languages and how America as a whole might become known for its bilingualism rather than for its monolingualism. Says Steve, “I expect to be a recovering monolingual for the rest of my days.”
*Here’s where I need your help (select the name you like best, and add your own suggestion, if you have one):
- Born-Again Bilingual
- Bilingual Bliss
- The Recovering Monolingual
- America the Bilingual
- The Journey to Bilingual
- Becoming Bilingual
- ________________________(your suggestion?)
Many thanks for your feedback and help!